NEW YORK- Soul and R&B singer Ben E. King, famous for the classic hit song Stand By Me, died of natural causes in New Jersey on Thursday at the age of 76, said his publicist.
King was born in North Carolina and moved to Harlem, New York, as a child. He began his career in the doo-wop group The Five Crowns, which later became The Drifters, before branching out as a solo artist.
"With an extremely heavy heart, I must say goodbye to one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing and calling my friend for more than 50 years, Mr Ben E. King," R&B singer Gary U. S. Bonds said on Facebook.
The Drifters had a string of hits with Atlantic Records and were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. King, famous for his deep, velvety baritone voice, co-wrote and sang the lead on the group's first hit There Goes My Baby in 1959.
After a contractual dispute, King began a solo career in 1960 and recorded his best-known song, Stand By Me, which was voted as one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America. King, along with Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, wrote the 1961 hit.
Stand By Me went on to become the fourth-most broadcast song on United States radio and TV in the 20th century, with more than seven million plays, according to songwriting body BMI.
Inspired by a traditional gospel spiritual and a psalm, the song was led by an instantly identifiable bass line and featured chord progressions common in 1950s popular music.
The song, which is featured in and provided the title for the 1986 film Stand By Me by director Rob Reiner, was also inducted by the Library of Congress into the National Recording Registry. King had five No. 1 hits with The Drifters and as a solo artist.
He remained active in his later life and set up the Stand By Me Foundation, based in his home of Teaneck, New Jersey, which supports youth education.
King is survived by his wife, Betty, three children and six grandchildren.